15 January 2015

The Humanities Open Book Program (@NEH_ODH)

The NEH and Mellon Foundation just announced a new project today, under the broader auspices of the NEH's The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square project. It's called the Humanities Open Book Program and will provide funds so that organizations can "digitize [out-of-print scholarly] books and make them available as Creative Commons-licensed 'ebooks' that can be read by the public at no charge on computers, mobile devices, and ebook readers."

This is great. There are lots of books that fall into this category and would see a lot more use if there were available digitally. I'd love them for myself, but I can also imagine assigning them (or parts of them) more frequently to my students. Also great is that the program insists that the books be released in the EPUB format, which is open, looks good on lots of readers, and makes it fairly easy to get the text out.

Regarding that last, a potential limitations that I hope we don't actually see too much of results from the program's lack of a specific requirement that the work be re-usable. Instead what's required is a CC license. Any CC license. That means that in reality there's no guarantee that it will be possible to reuse the work (apart from the usual fair-use ways). I tweeted this question and @NEH_ODH replied quickly (love those guys):
So let's hope that lots of publishers do make the choice to allow such re-use. I'm worried about it in part because we know what publishers can be like. On the other hand, the program explicitly solicits applications from more than just presses: "scholarly societies, museums, and other institutions that publish books in the humanities," and these groups might be a little more inclined to use a more permissive license. A little outside pressure might not hurt either.

(If @NEH_ODH would like to comment, I'd be curious to know why they didn't impose a more open licensing requirement. Worried that publishers might not respond so openly?)